Badgers have what it takes to make run at national title
MADISON—“I hear that everything is bigger in Texas,” Frank Kaminsky was saying. “Hopefully we get a bigger trophy.”
The one Ben Brust lugged into the Kohl Center on Sunday was nice enough. And substantial.
“That thing is heavy,” he said. “It gives me an arm workout.”
Draped with a Honda Center net cut down about 18 hours before in Anaheim, the award proclaimed the Wisconsin basketball team as champion of the West Regional.
“It’s nice,” Kaminsky said. “But we have bigger goals. I want to come home with a national championship trophy.”
The day after, the thought that the Badgers are two games from winning their first national title in 73 years remained no less surreal.
“You can’t put that into words,” Kaminsky said. “Your whole life culminating in the Final Four, which is what everyone talks about. It’s too hard to describe, so I’m not even going to try.”
A Kohl Center crowd approaching 10,000 greeted the Badgers, fresh off the plane from California. The fans patiently waited an extra half-hour for the welcome-home show that lasted about 20 minutes. Players and coaches stood on a midcourt stage and soaked in the adoration.
Kaminsky, the big center who scored 28 points and pulled down 11 rebounds in the regional final against top-seeded Arizona, had yet to come down from the emotional high from Saturday night. Then came the Sunday homecoming.
“That was awesome,” Kaminsky said. “I recorded an Instagram video and put it right up afterward. It’s so cool to know we have so much support from our fans. The pictures I saw last night from State Street were unbelievable.”
It was a Halloween-like scene down on the pedestrian mall that never needs an excuse to erupt. Kaminsky, the regional MVP, and the Badgers gave the Grateful Red every reason to celebrate.
And Kaminsky was still trying to take in the notion of being Charles Barkley’s newest best friend.
“I got to talk to him a little bit after the game,” Kaminsky said. “I’m still taken aback a little bit. To see all the people who have done it before with national interviews, it’s weird that it’s me now. I’m in a phase where it hasn’t hit me yet that I’m the person doing it, but I’m sure it will soon.”
Yes it will, because coach Bo Ryan reminded the crowd that his players had schoolwork to attend to Sunday night while his coaches devised another quick gameplan.
Brust, the senior guard, said nothing about North Texas would overwhelm the Badgers if they continue to follow the simple plan that breaks down such a colossal experience into simple-to-consume pieces.
“We’re taking this as little tournaments,” he said. “We won Tournament 1 in Milwaukee. We won Tournament 2 in Anaheim. And now we have Tournament 3 out there in Dallas.
“Everyone’s goal is to win the national title. We know what we have to do. We can’t look ahead to that. We just have to look at what’s in front of us and that’s 40 minutes on Saturday. The rest will take care of itself. We’ve done a good job of doing that in the tournament.”
The Badgers are going to the same outlandish joint where the Packers won a Super Bowl championship four years ago. Then, I had no doubt the Packers would finish off the Steelers. I’m starting to get that same feeling about Wisconsin.
Not only is UW’s geometric-precise offense the best Ryan has ever had, the Badgers played smart, disciplined and suffocating defense. Even if Arizona had gotten that last shot off in time, it still would’ve had no chance, not with three defenders denying.
If they lose, it will mean they have beaten themselves, which is something this team rarely does.
Brust was still feeling Arizona.
“That is the craziest thing in the world that that game didn’t get past one possession,” he said. “It was very stressful. I was just thrilled to hear that buzzer sound with more points than theirs.”
But the job isn’t done.
Two more games.
One more trophy.
“We’re looking forward to getting the job done again,” Brust said.
Michael Hunt is a sports columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Email him at email@example.com.